The other day I had quite an interesting talk. A woman told me it was “natural” to let body hair – especially pubes – grow and that to remove it meant looking similar to a child. She then said that men who were attracted to women without pubic hair were paedophilic and perverse. In short, women should “return” to a “natural” way of wearing their body hair again (which she thought was doing nothing to it whatsoever). Unsurprisingly, I don’t agree with this and it is not just a difference of opinion; in fact, these statements don’t represent an opinion at all. Here’s why.
First of all, I want to get rid of this binary thinking that there’s either no pubes or all the pubes a body can produce. What people choose to do with their hair, wherever it may grow, varies immensely. It’s a bit like different haircuts except you can’t parade it around the street afterwards and reap masses of compliments from your friends. So there’s not just two variations here, shaving half of it off and dyeing the other half bright green is also a possibility – although probably not a wide-spread one.
Second, what we see as natural is unnatural. What I mean with this is the following: In cultural theory, the divide between nature and culture is one of the fundamental questions in the field. What we see as “nature” and what we see as “culture” is deeply cultured. This becomes apparent when looking at the countryside of most of Western Europe: there is virtually no part that humans have not shaped. When we go out into the forest, this is never untouched nature, even though we perceive it as “nature”. Even if there is a place on this earth that no human has ever set foot in, it is still influenced by the climate change that is the consequence of our way of living, which in turn is part of our culture. The takeaway here is this: there is no separation between nature and culture and our definitions of “nature” can never exist without cultural context.
When we translate this to human bodies, this means that there is simply no natural way for them to look. What would be natural for us? Not touching any of our hair? Cutting it off only when it becomes inconvenient to us? And is that point of inconvenience the same for all people? Would it be to wear our body hair as long as people in the stone age did (i.e. modelled on the stone age’s necessities for hygiene to not get ticks etc.)? Which stone age people anyways, they lived in many different climates? And did they even do what’s “just natural” for us? But if we assume stone age behavior as natural, then tattoos would be natural too (yes, they did that, apparently my history studies paid off), as would be – surprise – removing one’s body hair, which they did as well, also after the stone age. Many ancient Egyptian women, for example, removed it for both hygienic and aesthetic reasons. Ancient Greek athletes did it so their opponents in fights couldn’t pull it (yay history). Many other cultures didn’t do anything to it. Some shaped it in a particular way. Additionally, what is considered beautiful determines our chances of reproduction, which is also a natural instinct. So who’s to say what’s natural?
So now that we’ve got the “natural” thing out of the way, I want to concentrate on calling a lack of body hair paedophilic. The first problem I have with this is that it reduces a woman’s adultness (is that a word?) to just the style of her pubes. That seems a bit short-sighted to me. The second problem is that it assumes that if people (but we’re talking about a heteronormative context here, so meant are mostly men) are attracted to a woman who chooses to remove her pubic hair, then this is because of that decision or because of a hairless look. I refuse to believe that men are that simple. He might just not care. He might like a specific look – if that’s the hairless one, we still don’t know if he’s culturally conditioned to prefer it or it’s just a “natural” (haha) preference or what. Or he might just be – and here comes a real shocker – attracted to the woman regardless of the existence or non-existence of a few (or many) hairs. There’s many other things to distinguish women from children, let’s not reduce that difference to some hairs.
Now, all of this is not to say that there’s no cultural pressure to wear our body hair a certain way. Of course there is. It’s still a fight for women to just be able to let pubes grow and not be in some way looked down upon for it. Obviously this is wrong, and we should definitely try to end these cultural concepts of what is considered beautiful female genitalia. But that doesn’t mean we should now do the same to women who make a different choice. Saying “I like X style of body hair the best” or “Y style of body hair doesn’t appeal to me” is an opinion; it’s about what is appealing to you specifically. Saying “Y style of body hair is perverted” is not an opinion, it’s an attack on women’s bodily autonomy and on men’s preferences.